Meet the Emerging City Champions: Simone and Beth

Simone Peterson from Bradenton, Florida and Beth Vild from Akron, Ohio have been implementing their great ideas to make their communities more engaged and happier. Get to know what they have accomplished a year after launching projects.

by Emma Jones, Jonathan von Ofenheim

Simone Peterson

Bradenton, Florida

Meet the Champ:
Simone Peterson is a Neighbourhood Specialist with Manatee County’s Neighbourhood Services Department. She works with her team to connect real people to local government systems through neighbourhood and digital events. She’s also an original design team member of Manatee County’s Manatee Millennial Movement (M3). M3 engages young professionals in conversations about important local issues.

How she’s innovating:
Peterson is part of the leadership team for Bradenton’s first open streets event, Cyclovia. On March 26, a closed off street became a hub for over 200 people to walk, bike, do Zumba, hang out and chat.

Modeled after Columbia’s successful open streets model, Bradenton’s Cyclovia created a new, temporary community gathering space. But it’s not just a street party. Peterson says it was designed to create a space for people to get together and talk about how to best commute without using a car, and how do it safely.

Simone biking at Bradenton’s Cyclovia

Most people in Bradenton commute by car, she says, so walking and riding bikes is rare and can be dangerous — especially because drivers and pedestrians might not be familiar with the rules of the road.

“Our community has been highly ranked on that list for pedestrian accidents and just general traffic accidents,” says Peterson.

For her, Cyclovia is a fun way to convene people to discuss personal experiences and share solutions for sharing the streets safely. So what’s one thing she wanted people to understand? “We wanted to let people know, ‘Okay, well, bicycles belong on the street, pedestrians belong on the sidewalk,’” she says. “Even I didn’t know, I was always riding my bicycle in the sidewalk. I’m like, if I’m the one who thinks this, there must be plenty of other people who think this, as well.”

Peterson says the open streets event was a major success. She’s looking forward to working with her team to develop the model and create a comprehensive plan to address pedestrian and cyclist fatalities head on.

Beth Vild
Akron, Ohio

Meet the Champ:
Beth Vild is passionate about the wellbeing of her community. She spends her time working to support people so that they thrive mentally, physically and emotionally. This is intersectional work: she’s been involved in community organizing for 14 years, she’s certified in permaculture and coordinates Akron’s Big Love Network, a local urbanism, arts and social justice organization, among other community engagement and health activities.

How she’s innovating:
Vild’s project, Akron City Repair, is a project of Akron’s Big Love Network. It’s about giving locals agency to co-create the community they want to live in. It offers opportunities, space and staff-led guidance and training sessions to help communities from all across Akron creatively design new community spaces.

So far, Vild says, locals have been doing some amazing work; they’ve built a playground, a mural, a community message board and a library. And bigger projects are in the works: “People are also having conversations about how to put parks and recreational things in their neighbourhoods on a larger scale, and be able to connect bike paths and things,” says Vild.

She describes the process of “being able to create their own space” as empowering for those involved.

“I think when people think of place, if it’s a place people are fond of and that they felt affected by, they have this, like, magical feeling of being. Some people explain it as, in their favourite tree when they were a kid, you know, or when they had their vine that they would swing on by the riverside, whatever that sense is for people that they feel that deep connection with,” Vild reflects.

“Whenever people are able to create that together, it’s this beautiful expression of community that I think we see very rarely these days.”

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